I woke up this morning with a dream still playing in my head. As I struggled into everyday consciousness, my heart was singing, “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas!” and I was so happy. I paused for a few moments and sat on the edge of the bed, my mind working like a little net to pull in more of the dream. I felt that I was five years old again and ready to run downstairs to see the presents under the tree.
The linoleum of the bedroom floor is freezing and through the iron grating by the door comes a gentle current of heat from the old coal furnace in the cellar. The air is scented with a delectable combination of pine and sugar cookies. Frost etches the panes of the bedroom window with an icy lace and through it I can see the dark outline of the steel mill down the hill and across the railroad tracks. Smoke is puffing out of the chimneys of all the snow-covered houses in the neighborhood. I clatter down the fourteen wooden steps and run into the living room to see if Santa has made my wishes come true.
The key to the dream was the happiness I felt knowing that it was Christmas day. How many times in my life had I gotten up in the morning and felt that elated, that hopeful, that innocent? Do you remember some special morning when you awoke filled with joy and expectation? Maybe it was a birthday or the beginning of vacation. How many years ago was that?
And then I suddenly realized why as adults so many are sad or depressed during the holiday season. All through our childhood we are encouraged to believe that on Christmas morning our dearest wishes will come true. When we grow up we soon find out we don’t always get what we want no matter how good we are – and even if we do get that special gift it often doesn’t bring the satisfaction we expected.
For a while we can assuage some of that disappointment in giving gifts to others; as parents we find our joy in the joy of our children’s happiness. But finally the children grow up and leave and then there are fewer presents to give and even fewer to receive.
As the seasons come and go the five-year old who still lives in our hearts calls out to the parents and family who are now gone, and searches for the tree with all the presents, and listens for the Christmas music on the radio, and looks out the window to see if it snowed during the night. Then one day Christmas morning becomes just like every other morning of the year.
The promise and magic of Christmas isn’t that a present will make us happy, the real promise is that we will be happy if we can become as little children and welcome each day as children do – without fear, without suspicion, without hesitation.
I think we need to allow a part of ourselves to continue to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell not for who or what they are but for what they represent. In that way we can keep alive that part of ourselves that is innocent and joyful.
“And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you … become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)